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"But you know, maybe if he wasn't so nice, he'd be a better player. Sometimes I wanted him to get mad, get meaner. It's a double-edged sword. He's a good guy to have on a club because he's so nice, but his niceness makes him expendable."
The Pistons picked up Nevitt a week later. Before Chuck arrived, the Pistons were known as a divisive outfit. But his cheerleading style soon caught on with his teammates and the fans. "He'd push everyone to play harder," says Detroit's Rick Mahorn.
As for Nevitt's relationship with the fans, well, there were fan clubs, a write-in campaign for the NBA All-Star ballot and a popular Chuck Nevitt trivia contest on a Detroit radio station. Then there were the 12 pies Buddy's Pizza gave away for every one of his blocked shots. "They didn't lose an awful lot of money on me," says Nevitt. "I remember one time, going down to Buddy's for some publicity pictures. They photographed me making the pizzas, loading them onto the cart and handing them out to the people down at the soup kitchen."
Nevitt reached new heights playing in Detroit. During the 1986-87 season he played in 17 straight games when Mahorn was out with a back injury, and in one of those games he scored his career-high 12 points in 20 minutes to lead the Pistons to a 122-111 victory over the Knicks. In one memorable sequence, he slam-dunked over Cartwright; then the next time down the floor, he brought the crowd to its feet with a 10-foot baseline skyhook.
The lowlight of Nevitt's career with the Pistons came during Game 2 of last year's NBA finals in L.A., and it was his own friendliness that got him in trouble. The CBS cameras caught him talking to comedian Billy Crystal during the game. "Billy just wanted to know a couple of nicknames of guys on the team," says Nevitt. "Like Toad for Rick Mahorn and Buddha for James Edwards. I didn't want to be rude." When coach Chuck Daly saw their exchange on the game film, he gave Nevitt a lecture. According to Daly, "I said, 'What are you doing? Giving him our game plan? You don't see me talking to Jack Nicholson. Pay attention.' " The funny thing is that usually nobody on the bench is more involved in the game than Nevitt.
The writing was on the wall, anyway, because he had played in only 17 games all season. The Pistons did not invite Nevitt back.
One might have thought an expansion team would pick him up. But Carl Scheer, the Charlotte Hornets' vice-president and general manager, was quoted last July as saying, "Chuck Nevitt is the one guy our entire coaching staff says can't play." That hurt, especially because Nevitt would have liked to play near his off-season home in Raleigh. And Miami didn't want him either.
So he went to Italy last summer for an audition with the team in Forli. "I actually was playing pretty well over there," he says, "but they want their big Americans to score a lot, and I just wasn't used to doing that." He was sent home.
Glass, Nevitt's agent, also happens to represent Larry Brown, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, and Glass talked Brown into giving Chuck a shot. But Brown didn't feel that Nevitt would fit into the team's plans, so on Oct. 24, Nevitt made the waiver list for the sixth time. "I can't understand why more clubs don't want Chuck," says Glass, whose agency is called, interestingly enough, Glass and Father. "And I'm not just saying that because I'm his agent. I happen to be something of an expert on white centers. I have 43 feet of them: Blair Rasmussen. Mark Eaton, Mike Smrek, Stuart Gray. Greg Kite and Chuck. And I think Chuck is the best shooter of all of them."
Three days after the Spurs waived him, Nevitt got the call from his old mentor, Patterson. He would have to come back to the Rockets, in essence, as a six-year "rookie," and he would have to swallow a $125,000 salary. (Actually, the real hardship for Nevitt was giving up his seniority rights on flights; sometimes he has to fold his frame into coach seats when the Rockets can't get enough first-class space.) Nevitt has surprised the Rockets, and not just with his playing ability. On the road in Portland earlier in the season, Chaney and trainer Ray Melchiorre were approached by a man who said he could improve players' hand-eye coordination by teaching them how to juggle. "Don and I were kind of intrigued," says Melchiorre, "so we told him that there's one guy on the team who would really benefit. We meant Chuck. Then, while we were fooling around with these beanbags, throwing them all over the place. Chuck walked in. He picked up three of the beanbags and started juggling them like a pro. Well, there went that idea down the drain."